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Monumentalization and Placemaking: From the Athenian Acropolis to Modern Spaces

Published onJun 14, 2022
Monumentalization and Placemaking: From the Athenian Acropolis to Modern Spaces
3D reconstruction of the Athenian Acropolis of the classical period, looking east towards the Parthenon and the statue of Athena Promachos

Reconstruction of the Athenian Acropolis in the 5th c. BCE (© Dimitris Tsalkanis – Ancient Athens 3D)

Author & Project Role


Megan J. Daniels, Assistant Professor of Ancient Greek Material Culture, University of British Columbia

Christine L. Johnston, Assistant Professor of Ancient Mediterranean History, Western Washington University


Course Instructors

Assignment Files

An example of the completed class activity for Module 1 can be found here. The guiding questions that students will use in the monument descriptions in both Modules 1 and 2 can be found here.

Learning Objectives

What did you want students to be able to do by completing this assignment?

Assignment learning objectives include both cognitive and affective learning goals which are framed using L.D. Fink’s Taxonomy for Significant Learning (Fink 2003).

Upon completing this assignment, students will be able to

  • Understand and remember the major components of the Athenian Acropolis that were erected in the 5th century BCE;

  • Know how to use spatial thinking and evaluate the social conditions and the ideological goals of ancient monuments and spaces;

  • Identify and critically evaluate neoclassical style and allusions to Greco-Roman antiquity in contemporary public spaces, art, and architecture;

  • Recognize and contemplate the impact of the concept of “Western Civilization” and its legacy on their community and society;

  • Be interested in learning more about cultural heritage and the presentation of the past;

  • Develop the skills to interpret monumentality and place-making in the past and present.

Technology-Dependent Learning Outcomes

Was there anything this assignment taught students that you felt they wouldn't have been able to learn through other types of class assignments?

This assignment includes training in accessible digital mapping technologies such as Google Earth and Google Maps. These programs facilitate spatial thinking and inquiry through both visualization and computational analysis. Each platform allows students to collaborate in collecting and integrating spatial, visual, and textual data, providing an opportunity to envision the spatial and symbolic experience of traversing both ancient and modern spaces.

Skill Level

What is the course title and level?

This assignment can be tailored for use in different courses that deal with ancient Greek history and archaeology (it can also be revised for use in classes on other ancient World cultures). The assignment as outlined here is designed for an upper-level undergraduate or graduate seminar, with suggested modifications included for use in intro-level undergraduate class.

What kinds of prior knowledge is necessary to complete this assignment? How do students gain this knowledge?

Depending on the level of the class (undergraduate survey up to graduate seminar), varying degrees of background information will be needed for the the political and social context of fifth century BCE Athens, the politician Perikles (who commissioned much of the construction projects discussed in this assignment), and the legacy of these monuments from their construction to today.

Screenshot showing an aerial view of the acropolis with pins over major monuments. On the right is a block of text uploaded by students in a previous class.

Screenshot of a completed Module 1 class assignment on Google Earth

Assignment Description

This assignment draws students into a critical examination of space and monumentality in the ancient Greek world coupled with a reflection of our own use of neoclassical architecture and iconography to configure contemporary public spaces. This assignment uses both digital representations of space (Google Earth) and the lived experience of modern-day spaces (self-guided local walking tour) to interpret the symbolism and ideology encoded into curated social spaces. Assignment design incorporates collaborative work and peer-learning through the development of the Google Earth resource in Module 1, as well as active learning in the walking tour evaluation of local monumentality, place-making, and cultural legacy in Module 2.

Module 1:

In the first part of the assignment, students examine the monumental architecture constructed on the Athenian Acropolis during the mid-fifth century BCE (often associated with Athens’ leading statesman at that time, Perikles). An overview of fifth-century Athens is provided in class. Together the students view the reconstruction of the Acropolis produced by the Ancient Athens 3D project (including this short video) and discuss monumentality and place-making on the Acropolis, as well as the connection between this area and adjacent spaces in ancient Athens. Students then research different structures of the so-called “Periklean” building program, presenting on their assigned building to the class and contributing synthesized descriptions to the Google Earth course site (see sample reading list below and guiding questions here). During class discussion and presentations, students are asked to reflect on the social and political contexts of the building program as part of the post-Greco-Persian war economic and military ambition of Athens, interrogating the impact of ideology, symbolism, and monumentality in social spaces.

Module 2:

In the second part of the assignment, students explore their campus and local community to identify examples of Greco-Roman cultural legacy in buildings and monuments. Each student is responsible for photographing an example they have identified, adding the image along with a short description into a shared map using Google My Maps. Students are encouraged to try to find examples not already identified by other members of their class (to the extent that is possible). As a group, the class then critically evaluates the objectives and impact of these cultural markers on contemporary social spaces, analyzing the legacy of “Western Civilization” in North American society. Discussion also addresses the benefits and challenges of using digital tools for spatial thinking and historical inquiry. Following class discussion, students write an individual reflection on the overall assignment.


If there are insufficient examples of neoclassical art and architecture in the immediate community of the school, the Instructor could select a major city nearby that may be familiar to students, and that could be explored virtually with Google Earth.

Time Needed

How much time did you allot to this project?

Module 1:

This module requires 2–4 hours of class presentation time plus additional time allotted outside of class for research, reading, and group work. Work time outside of class is also be needed for students to prepare and upload their notes about their assigned monument to Google Earth. During the in-class presentations, groups of students present their assigned monument on the Acropolis using the Google Earth site.


This assignment can be modified for an intro-level undergraduate class by the Instructor presenting the historical background to fifth-century Athens and the Acropolis building program in class lecture before the module. Students can then work in groups to complete short assigned readings on individual buildings and monuments, after which they will share their group notes to the Google Earth site (1–2 hours). If the class has a small number of students (e.g., a small graduate seminar), each student can research and present on a single monument, while another student takes notes in real time on the Google Earth site.

Module 2:

Students spend 1–2 hours walking their local areas (campus or town), taking pictures of neoclassical monuments, and uploading these pictures to the shared course map using Google My Maps. Additional time will be required for students to research and prepare accompanying notes for their photo submission following the same guiding questions as in Module 1 (approx. 1 hour). Class discussion on monumentality, placemaking, and classical legacy (i.e., so-called “Western Civilization”) can be expected to run between 1–2 class meetings. Students will then compose a short reflection piece on their engagement with and evaluation of the meaning of neoclassical architecture in local spaces in comparison with the Periklean Building Program (1 hour)


Instead of a written reflection piece, Instructors may elect to assess students through their contribution to and participation in discussions during a weekly tutorial or seminar that reflect on their experiences.

Support and Training

What kinds of support or training did you provide to help students learn to use new techniques or specialized tools?

Students will require a brief tutorial on uploading pictures and information to Google Earth and Google Maps (this can be done through an in-class demonstration or prepared instructional guide). An open access introductory tutorial for Google Maps and Google Earth is available on the Programming Historians website.


Did you need any specialized equipment, tools, or human resources to make this assignment feasible? If so, please describe.

  • Personal computer (or shared computers in university learning commons)

  • Internet connection

  • Google account (free)

  • Google Earth (open access)

  • Google Maps (open access)

  • Camera/smartphone – may be used in Module 2, however Google Maps and online images can be used as an alternative.

  • Checklist of Guiding Questions for Uploaded Information here.

Resources for Module 1:

  • Paga, J. 2020. Building the Democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Chapter 1.

  • Surtees, A. 2019. “Autochthonous Landscape and Female Exclusion in the Athenian Democracy.” In Women and the Ideology of Political Exclusion: From Classical Antiquity to the Modern Era, edited by T. Tsakiropoulou-Summers and K. Kitsi-Mitakou, 104–119. London and New York: Routledge.

  • Ancient Athens 3D project website and video tour

Monument Specific Readings (one per group):
  • Propylaea: Paga, J. 2017. “Contested Space at the Entrance to the Athenian Acropolis.” Journal of Architectural Historians 76:154–174.

  • Athena Polias / Dörpfeld Foundations: Ferrari, G. 2002 “The Ancient Temple on the Acropolis at Athens.” American Journal of Archaeology 106(1): 11–35.

  • Athena Nike: Jameson, M.H. 2014. “The Ritual of the Athena Nike Parapet.” In Cults and Rites in Ancient Greece: Essays on Religion and Society, edited by A.B. Stallsmith, 127–144. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Parthenon: Root, M.C. 1985. “The Parthenon Frieze and the Apadana Reliefs at Persepolis: Reassessing a Programmatic Relationship.” American Journal of Archaeology 89(1): 103–120.

  • Erechtheion: Gerding, J. 2006. “The Erechtheion and the Panathenaic Procession.” American Journal of Archaeology 110(3): 389–401.

  • Athena Promachos: Davison, C.C. 2013. "Athena 'Promachos'." Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 56, Supplement 105(1): 277–296.

References / Basic Building Information:
  • Camp, J. 2001. The Archaeology of Athens. New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 74–92

  • Rhodes, R.F. 2016. “The Periclean Acropolis.” In A Companion to Greek Architecture, edited by M. M. Miles, 147–163. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell.

Optional Readings:
  • van Rookhuijzen, J.Z. 2020. “The Parthenon Treasury on the Acropolis of Athens.” American Journal of Archaeology 124(1): 3–35.

Resources for Module 2:

Choose 1 of the following:


How did you assess or grade this project?

Grades are assigned to each component of the assignment as follows:

  • Module 1: Each component—the group presentation and the contribution to the shared Google Earth site—is graded on a complete / did not complete basis. Students are given a short check-list of guiding questions to help them construct their entries (an example can be found here), and are given an opportunity to revise their Google Earth contribution after the initial assessment to provide any missing information.

  • Module 2: The contribution to the shared Google Map, including the photo of the monument or building and a short description, is graded on a complete / did not complete basis using the same check-list as in Module 1. The post-assignment reflection can be structured and evaluated according to the course type and level. For example, for an upper-level course on ancient Greek history, this could take the form of a 1–2 page written reflection responding to different components of the assignment, including monumentality, legacy and cultural heritage, or digital methods of analysis and visualization.

Challenges and Opportunities

If you assigned this project again, would you change anything? If so, what?

Initially the assignment included only Module 1. Module 2 has been subsequently developed to incorporate overall course learning objectives by encouraging students to think critically about both ancient and modern spaces and the legacy of Greco-Roman culture. It provides an additional opportunity to develop digital skills through the use of Google Maps, and introduces an experiential learning component into the assignment. The redesigned version of the assignment presented here, with a revised Module 1 and added Module 2, will be introduced during the 2022/2023 academic year.

When the Module 1 was run the first time, each student presented on a monument using a reading they had read and summarized outside of class. Another student was assigned to take notes during this presentation without specific guiding questions. Though this exercise encouraged the development of both listening and note-taking skills, it resulted in inconsistencies in the Google Earth site, with varying types and amounts of information for each monument. As part of the ongoing development of this assignment, guiding questions were prepared for this component of the module, with the goal of creating more consistency in uploaded information. By providing these questions in advance, the learning objectives can be more directly integrated into each activity, scaffolding student work in each module.

Describe any trouble spots or complications someone else might want to be aware of before trying a similar assignment in a course of their own.

Instructors should be prepared to provide accommodation for barriers associated with digital divides (including access to technology and experience with digital tools; see discussion in Caraher 2020). Students should be given guidance to their on-campus technology resources and detailed instructions for working in Google Earth and Google Maps. Instructors should also be aware of any safety or accessibility needs for the walking tour component of Module 2. For this module, Google maps can be used as an alternative method for identifying and capturing images of local monuments and buildings to contribute to the Google Map.

Works Cited

Caraher, W. 2020. “Dissecting Digital Divides in Teaching.” In DATAM: Digital Approaches to Teaching the Ancient Mediterranean, edited by S. Heath, 71–82. Grand Forms: The Digital Press of the University of North Dakota.

Fink, L.D. 2003. Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Permission to use the header image received from Dimitris Tsalkanis of Ancient Athens 3D.


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